Connecting With The Community: Feedback Loop

Hey, how about that Burning Man 2006? What did you think about the art? Were the toilets clean and easy to find? What were your experiences with law enforcement? Did you find the map, WhatWhereWhen and Survival Guide informative? What about performances in the Cafe? Did you find what you needed in Center Camp?

Every year after the event, Burning Man staff reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we plan to do in the future — changes, improvements, what was right, wrong, etc. First, we attend a meeting in October with the BLM and other agencies to debrief on how the organizers and agencies worked together to fulfill the permit stipulations. At about the same time, staff members submit their feedback in EMBER reports. The reports are read by the Board and discussed at the annual Board Retreat. Then the over 100 reports are read by the Senior Staff in preparation for another off-site debrief in mid-November. A fundamental principle of the Burning Man Project has always been to engage in “self-reflection”. This applies to the individual as much as the Project. We take the body of information we’ve gathered in the fall, and begin planning for the next year immediately.

We want to include YOUR feedback in our planning process. When the event was smaller we held Town Meetings in the winter in San Francisco as a forum for feedback. However, over time this option didn’t prove the most efficient to receive the broadest comments from the community. As in 2004 and 2005, the Project for 2006 is making available to participants an email address for comments on Burning Man. Please email any comments to: feedback(at)burningman(dot)com before November 1, 2006 in order to be included in our retreat process and planning for next year.

Due to the fact we typically get a strong response to this request for feedback, it is not practical to reply directly to everyone. Depending on the nature of the feedback, some participants may receive a direct response. If many feedback emails touch upon similar issues, then we will draft a general response that will be sent on the JRS and posted in the Q&A AfterBurn Report. We DO promise that your email will be read. We want to hear from new and old Burners alike. Starting with the good before the bad is helpful. ;-)

Furthermore, Burning Man staff members are interested in meeting with participants and hearing their thoughts in person during their increasing number of trips to meet with Regional groups year round. We will gladly work with any Regional groups to set up gatherings with participants when Board or Senior Staff members travel. If you would like to find out more about the Regional Network and a group in your area please visit http://regionals.burningman.com.

Thanks for taking the time to contribute your thoughts. We promise we’ll read what you have to say. Looking forward to 2007!

~ The Burning Man Project Staff [para_end]

Inhale… it’s time


by Kara Zamora

I remember not sleeping that night, I had so much to do & I hadn’t even finished cramming everything into my worn army surplus duffel bags… I was excited! To be leaving for Burning Man, finally. So much of my summer turned into preparing for this journey. I remember the quiet of that morning, I walked out of my door at around 4 am. I remember the quiet of the train ride to the airport…

It was revealed to me very early on that when it comes to Burning Man, everything that you sincerely want will find it’s way to you somehow. I remember the exact moment I decided to go after just entertaining the idea of going for months… a friend said to me something along the lines of “I don’t care if I’m living on top of a mountain, at the bottom of the ocean, in the jungle, anywhere–I will make it to Burning Man every year”. And I think then, only HE could have said that to me. He’s flipped a lot of switches in my head, probably without him realizing…. anyway, I bought my ticket. Before I even knew who I could camp with, how I could get to the Black Rock City, how I could afford the extra expenses, because I knew that having the ticket, making that COMMITMENT, would make me find a way to make everything else work. And it did, as it always does… decisions are the hardest part for me. But as soon as you commit the way will reveal itself.

What that week ended up being all about for me though was sunrise…

Thursday night into Friday morning, I decided to crash out in Entheon’s common area (as the week progressed, more & more of us slept out there instead of in our tents), I was dehydrated & couldn’t sleep & had to work in the morning anyway. So I decided to walk out to the playa to watch the sunrise… my first sunrise there.

I sat down at the front of my village when my friend Caton walked by! Hadn’t seen him in months. And he told me to walk out to a fire in the middle of the playa were a group of people were waiting for sunrise. So I did, & it’s significant that he told me this too… could only have been him. Out in the middle of the playa, the chill & silence of the morning & the warmth of the fire & those strangers…

Then the sun rose over the edge of the mountains. So bright & alive! And so warm, I melted right into the light that started to hit everything, rising higher & higher… & I was just so moved by it. Somehow it was THE most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And I just wanted to walk into it, be part of it. I got up & started walking into the sunrise, never feeling anything like that before. It led me to the sunrise trance party at Esplanade & 2:00. When I dance is when I feel the most free, so dancing into that sunrise with all of those beautiful strangers…

Sometimes it’s hard to connect to people. But I had never felt connected to the SUN before, to the air before, to the earth before… & you know the whole God is in everything, the universe is conscious & perfect, I AM the universe, life is eternal & beauty is in everything? I got it. In that sunrise I got it. Being so awake! And so fully aware of my own existence, it felt like I could see & hear & feel in 360 degrees. I felt reborn, everything around me felt new! And I let so much go…

I walked back to camp & all I had the capacity to do was find someone to curl up to. I found Rubee on the couch in the common area… it could only have been him then. My father in this tribe, I’ve been through so much with him. He was sitting next to Koko (who was the first person to ever tell me about Burning Man)… I curled up into him & sobbed. I can’t remember the last time I cried before that. And when Rubee had to do something for the camp (he was manager on duty that morning)… I found TJ & curled up to him, lol. He & I were family back in Tampa, it could only have been him that morning too.

That’s what all of this has been about for me.

One of the most wonderful elements of that week for me was eating dinner as a village, then going out at night with different people every night & not knowing where you would be or who you would be with at sunrise but that it would always be beautiful & just as it should be.

The stars… stars & stars hanging in the deep black sky… stars like I’ve never seen. When I think about looking up on those nights & being breathtaken, I giggle a little… the way you giggle when remembering the great night before with someone on your way to work the next day.

And all those other intimate little details… the way someone whose look has been going right through me for months intensified, even in just quick glances across the way… the private conversations… all those details. Some things, I think, only belong in a person’s heart & memory…

I definitely felt the shift in mood from community on Wednesday to party on Thursday. But when we all watched the Man burn…. it didn’t matter. All of us who watched him burn in my group were newbies! I stand when the fireworks started. And maybe it was just me, but everyone around me was making out when the Man was burning. Three of the 4 people who tried to make out with me succeeded, the 4th got pretty close though. And JoLo, my ddaarrrlliinnngg made out with 2 boys! Deeper than that, the energy was just… LOVE. Two different people walked over to me while I was standing there watching the Man collapse tell me I was beautiful. One of them said “you are so magnificently beautiful.” That meant so much.

…Sunday night we burned the Temple of Hope. I could see the spot where my message was from where I was watching with Troy.

Silence. Crackle. Light. Healing.

And then I was home. And it was time to start re-integrating. I got really sick as soon as I got home…That first week back was so busy & all I want to do was sleep… I really missed BRC, the magic of the playa. I kind of shifted into hermit mode for a while. All I wanted was silence & time to re-integrate…

Last weekend though, about a week removed from Burning Man I was still feeling off, really off… then I realized that the feeling wasn’t from the decompression process anymore. It was from all those things in the years prior to my first Burn that just couldn’t be anymore now that I’ve had my first Burn. I’m different. It’s hard to come back & be the same after spending a week seeing beyond what you thought was possible. I left the playa wanting to be better. Better at everything I do, to learn everything I want to do… to be a better person. All those little changes I’m making to find my center… finding harmony in Bikram Yoga… sitting down for meals… keeping internet & cable tv out of my apartment… all the conversations I’ve had about our Burns…

Everything is changing & it’s beautiful.

So that was my first Burning Man! A part of me is still there, will always be there, the way there are pieces of me everywhere, with people…

… and how old am I again? I’m 19 years young :o) I know I’m better off figuring so many things out so young.

Exhale…

They say the Burn changes you…


by Storm

They say the Burn changes you, that being around so many free spirits inspires you to soar to your true potential. But for me there is something much greater at work on the Playa. For me the Playa has shown her sentience and her maternal goddess side. I went to this Burn with a heavy burden that I wanted to shed into the fires of the Temple burn, but what I walked away with was a soul that had been healed on even deeper levels than I could have ever known to ask for.

You see, fourteen years ago I was raped, but only in the last few months was I able to accept the fact that it had been a rape and not merely a “misunderstanding.” Going through the complex emotions that were finally released after so many years in hibernation was further intensified by the fact that I was raised not to form attachments or trust people…period. In other words, in all my thirty-six years on this planet I have never allowed myself to feel wanted or loved, rather I have always walked on egg shells around others waiting for the inevitable moment of betrayal or rejection. Luckily I come from a large family, so it wasn’t an entirely solitary existence, but it was a lonely one, like living life from inside a fishbowl…people think they know what’s going on but they are never able to really get close enough to see the truth. To top things off, just before the Burn I had faced rejection by yet another man…the inevitable other shoe had dropped despite my walking on eggshells for over two months. I was seriously considering giving up entirely on the concept of romantic love with a man and had nearly resigned myself to ordering sperm off the internet to satisfy my ticking ovaries.

So this burn I had decided would serve as a major release for all my feelings of hurt, anger, confusion, and hate that I had stored up about the rape, which I hoped would free me from my inherent distrust of men. I had put my feelings into poetry and planned to spend a solitary afternoon transcribing the words on the Temple and crying. Be it my natural tendency toward procrastination or the pull of the Playa, the beginning of the week steered me toward a more gradual healing. I was blessed to find an old soul that my spirit recognized almost immediately and we walked with the spirit of the Playa for destinations unknown. Slowly, as the dust was loosened beneath our feet, the damage to my soul caused by my most recent betrayal was smoothed away until a glimmer of hope returned. I started to at least trust myself again…something that I desperately needed to do before I truly faced that night from fourteen years ago.

As the week started drawing to a close and I had still not managed to motivate myself to make the trek to the Temple, I began to question whether it was a journey that I really wanted to make on my own. But I still couldn’t find the courage to ask any of my friends to accompany me because I had only shared the story of my rape with one person that was on the Playa and I didn’t want to impose on her Playa time…the eggshells that I walked upon simply wouldn’t let me do it. It was Thursday night and I had finally resigned myself that I would make the trek alone on Friday, but if my girlfriend happened to be around when I started on that journey I would try and pull up the courage to ask her to accompany me. However, the Playa knew better and had other journeys for me to take.

A friend asked me to go on a walkabout after we finished with our camp obligations and we set out to explore the Esplanade and open Playa with no real destinations in mind. As we wandered the Playa and searched for an art car to hop on we found ourselves unwilling to pause our journey long enough to find an open seat, instead we began walking to find the Temple. My friend hadn’t seen the Temple yet and I felt that I could shield myself well enough to make a brief stop there, so I didn’t object to that being our destination. However, when we reached the Temple I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold back much longer and asked my friend if we could keep our visit brief. I sat between his legs on the steps and he sheltered me with his arms, but it still didn’t take long until I needed to leave. I told him that I needed to leave or I would be a bundle of tears for the rest of the night and he naturally wanted to know why. I tried to be elusive and just told him I had stuff to leave at the Temple but that I wanted to do it alone the next day. He said that if it bothered me that much I should let go of it then and he wouldn’t mind if I felt the need to cry the rest of the night. Since I had battled with the decision to do my Temple visit alone and I was more emotionally open than I normally was, I broke down and told him the story of my rape and I cried and cried. He simply held me tight and told me that it wasn’t my fault and to let go of the hurt…and he let me cry. I must have cried rivulets for at least a half hour and my whole body ached from the sobs that consumed it. As the tears began to subside and the sobbing calmed, I felt a release that seemed to go through my whole being. We got up to leave and I tucked my poem into an edge of the Temple. We walked back out to the open Playa, the tears had stopped and I felt physically lighter. Later toward the first stretches of dawn I again walked along the open Playa, by myself this time, and explored the sensation of release that I now had. With a major part of my soul on the mend, the Playa set her sights on healing the rest.

It had started out as a wonderful night riding the magic carpet across the open Playa, but somewhere along the way my camelback, my lifeline, had fallen off the carpet. I didn’t notice the loss until we reached our next destination and at first I wasn’t really upset since I try not to form attachments to possessions. But then I realized my camera had been attached to my camelback and the loss of the memories it contained traumatized me. You see, although I have never been able to form attachments to people, or maybe because of it, I formed very deep attachments to my memories … photos, mementos, etc. I cried with the grief for a lost loved one even as my friends trolled the Playa in search of my bag. Finally I accepted that there must be some soul lesson to be learned from the loss and told my friends to call off the search. I held back my tears and played the part of the trouper as we partied for the rest of the night, but when the time came for us to end the evening and return to our respective tents the grief returned. I didn’t want to be alone but couldn’t find the courage to reach out to my friends for comfort, so I returned to my tent alone and cried and sobbed myself to sleep as I shivered in the cold. The next morning I woke at first light and decided that I wasn’t going to let the loss ruin the rest of my burn even if I couldn’t see the reason for such a loss yet. To battle the grief I decided to keep count of each positive thing that happened to me during the day…I’m “home” surrounded by the sounds of BRC…+1…no hangover…+2… After getting ready to start my day I went to search for my camelback, but after an unsuccessful visit to “Found” at Center Camp I realized my back tire was going flat and was forced to head back to camp.

One of my girlfriends had a backpack of mine and I found her sitting with a group of our friends congregated in a chill space. My lips were aching and sunburned which only served to remind me of my loss since my chapstick was also in my lost pack. I asked to borrow someone’s chapstick and unknowingly released the floodgate of grief that I had been holding back. As I relayed the story of my loss I was suddenly inundated with replacement items from my friends as quickly as my tears flowed…a new tube of chapstick, a new bottle of eye drops, a sharpie, a fresh bottle of water, and a disposable camera all materialized at once in the hands of my friends. And without the least prompting they surrounded me in an assault of a group hug which lasted until I had no more tears to cry. It was a moment that I can only imagine must have been like when the Grinch felt his heart suddenly grow three times it’s previous size because somewhere in the middle of that circle of love I felt the wall around my heart begin to rip and by the time the last person released me from their embrace I knew what it was really like to feel loved and wanted. Just like that, with the swiftness of flicking a switch, I was released from a lifetime of insecurities and detachment. But the Playa wasn’t done showing me her power or compassion, for when I made my final trip to “found” she returned my camelback to me completely undamaged and un-tampered with…yes, I got my camera back too!

So now I am back from the Playa and I’m glowing with the love and acceptance of my friends. All the energy that I used to waste on my eggshell walking has been rerouted and I’m literally bursting at the seams with creativity. I’ve started painting again after nearly a decade hiatus and I realize that I had become afraid to paint because I had stifled my creative energies so much with my fear. Now that I have let go of my fears and regained my hope the paint nearly flies to the canvas on its own. My spirit is freed through my creativity and I am more alive now than I have ever been…I no longer fear the future.

This Is the End of the Story of Don


by Steve Engel

My friend James invited some friends and me to stay with him at Lake Tahoe on the way to Burning Man (2006). We went out on the lake in his dad’s speedboat and were cruising around, having a happy time, when we found some litter floating on the lake. It was a cardboard box that had come unglued and was floating flat on the lake’s surface. We picked it up. Stuck on it was a label: “Masonic Memorial Gardens ……. cremated remains of Donald ……., permit enclosed # …….”

Well, we were a little shocked and surprised. For a few minutes we discussed whether to take the empty box with us or throw it back into the lake. We did not want to re-litter the lake. Then we had a splendid idea! Take the box to Burning Man and place it on the Temple where it (along with other memorials) would be burned. Wow! Don will get to go to Burning Man for his last party!

We loved the idea, it brought joy to us, and we did it. And that’s how Don got to go with us to Burning Man.

Burning Man 2006: Installment #1 de la Hekter the Virgin


by Hekter the Virgin

To try and transition all of the preparation (thrift store perusing, wig fitting, stilt tripping, e-baying funky skimpies, evaporation ponds, shady zones, etc.), fuzzy memories and footwear, sweat, bliss, drama, blisters, ultra-input, flame, sleep-deprivation, global orientation, moonwalking, heat, majesty, desertified hallucinations (or were they?), sunrises, sprouting friendships, burning, cold, swirling dustangels, sunsets, cryptic sounds, dust storms, playa-techno and integration into mere words is a task that may require carnal knowledge of my temporarily misplaced Thesaurus and a thorough grasp of the run on sentence. Run on I say… Run On! I may only attempt to digress with the tools I gotst whether spell check agrees or not.

That mischievous grin that invades one’s entire cranium accompanied by a universal flame stoked deep behind the eyes while describing their BM moments certainly caught my imagination and planted the kindling in my to-do campfire. For over ten years I have heard the stories, seen the photos, met the “burners” (disironically in some of my favorite places on this rotating orb of freshness) and had decided to just let the universe unvelop itself in due time for my initiation into the playa mandala of rebirth (I am but only a sparkled grain of playa in the entire installation although I’m sure the Monks would have a difficult time stuffing me into a straw, unless of course it was of the crazy variety). 2006 just happened to be the year when time, money, friends, patience, will, intent and the functionality of my four-wheeled brother Spencer were all playing on the same team instead of the king-of-the-hill game they have been engaged in over the previous years. I have diligently taught these life forces to share with each other or face a time-out on my portable orange shag carpet swatch. BM 2006 is a go Houston, and the universe laid out the crushed-velvet red carpet for my arrival and Camp Overkill was my surrogate rehabilitation facility back into the world of my hopes, which I could no longer fear.

Functional Lesson #1:

Showing up on Sun day, not night nor Monday, is highly recommended cause security is playa-ridden and lax….. early arrival lists have long been spent for rolling J’s and emergency toilet paper, therefore, your glorious smile and fuzzy accessories are redundantly sufficient for the early arrival process. Even told the gatekeeper it was my first time and all he did was town-drop places in Washington… freakin’ plate-peaker didn’t even make me dig piggy-style in the anticipatory playa or give me a proper virgin whippin’.

Day first couple:

I must give it up for Cabenza Construction! Moon lit power tooling, semi-luminescent headlights (L.E.D. hopeful), one glove chop sawin’, anti-locational toolyard, drunkard labor, dome raising ratchet masters, sparking rotors, Elvis safety glasses, color-coded mathematicians, “Chronic” on the spot, the man with the plan, “The Machine” for directing sleepy Hekter into productive kinetics, re-bar rodeoin’ and the fruit boxes were getting more sun-ripened by the hour. Much like a high tide rising to it’s inevitable elevation, people and things began to sprout on the back 40, the side 40 and the 140 in-between; the feng shei of 40,000ish people began to lay the blankets where they lay and root down; even a Chia-Pet can’t touch that!

This brings me to a crucial aspect of BM: you truly get out of it what you put into it – so cliché but spot on (pardon my knickers). It may be my first year but I put as much energy as I had in my distracted reserve tank and would not feel so enlightened if I had just showed up for the ride. To help when you have a moment, sweep someone’s freshly loufa’d gray water around the pool, do some dishes, cut some limes, gas the generators, give a quickie massage to the mis-postured individual, tong the condoms out of the morning art car (used or not and of course we are talking about the aptly named space orgy), share your favorite shirt to a stranger, cook for a minimum of 15 and have party favors for a city block on the 4th of July. What is the summit without the hike, the graduation without the education, the groove without the DJ, the orgasm without the foreplay? The means is the ride, the end is just a place to be, the halfway point. The mountainside sustains the summit, the education sustains the mind and life is completely relative. To harvest more joy, you must put in more work and be proud of the tribal welfare. Own your intention! BM is truly the first place where giving has been more empowering than getting. Fuck Christmas, to delight others is to delight the inner-self and the smiles on burners faces as they approached our camp or art-cars was priceless. Every burner is just a soulful reflection of ourselves although a few need more forward reminders that we ain’t taking them home nor losing them forever!

To hear and see photos of the infamous BM dust storms can’t relay the minute stinging of the playa particles bombarding all open skin, the painfully slow resination of the lungs with an Elmer’s Glue type substance, the cough that makes your belly button sneeze, the stinging of the eyes as somehow the particles groove their way through your “bombproof” goggles and get to work on brewing tomorrow morning’s eye boogers, a complete white out of any sense of place or being. The fiercely camped cotton shag on my tongue even decided to reabsorb until conditions were more “convenient.” The power storm on Tuesday (or Wednesday?) brought the Yin to the overly indulgent Yang of BM and the slate was wiped clean, balance was restored and the beat moved on. The smoky gray orb of what was previously considered our sun, danced in and out of view as if teasing kittens with a ball of yarn (Quite possibly a hazardous condition considering most of the kittens were “nipped” up). When one’s exterior is so violently ambushed one is forced to delve deeper within themselves for that place of calm and acceptance. A moment of truly releasing the physical and taking the mental to the big tire at recess for yummy kisses (albeit crunchy). That Playa dust storm certainly was the fine-grit sandpaper to my psyche. It scratched free all those layers of painted debris that we all accumulate to some degree in our so-called “society.” I felt as if I was a shiny piece of steel again waiting for the next artist’s rendition. The dust storm was the equalizer of all things breathing, the vast difference between a group and a tribe. It was as if all communal tension was thrown through the power washer and came out sparkling clean, only the original element existing. Without it, I may have woken up on Neptune with an empty gas tank and a toothless toothbrush.

Functional Lesson #2:

When partying on the “Allure” in the middle of the playa during a dust storm, drink beer instead of cocktails – much smaller portal for the alien particles to invade.

Functional Lesson #3:

Remember to close your car doors before haphazardly jumping into the departing art car as these dust storms tend to arrive quicker than you can remember your name. Every time I turn on the A/C or Vent I get a lil’ personalized mini-storm – mmmmmh – Playalicious!

We may have been located beyond Thunderdome but camp Overkill was where the sidewalk ends. Teetered on the brink of free-range and inter-urban, Overkill was a pleasant surprise for those willing to wonder beyond the “abrupt edge” signs (what exactly those signs were eluding to may take many more years of investigation before enlightenment?). A black light monkey bars for monkeys with really, really long ………….. arms of course. Much love to Mathew the crane operator (He took his crane fishing for hurricane Katrina scraps last year!) and all those who made it happen – the art cars, the dome, peach juice dripping down my flavor savor, fatty sandies that made my lips crack just to get em’ in, Pacifiho’s with lime, limbo showers on the plastic bottle hovercraft, couch induced ponderings, pole-dancing sexy bitches, black light smiles, sunrise melts, afternoon Jaegermeister (how the hell do you spell this elixir?) sips, the everlasting bar, playa wonderings, gray-water pool-side happy hour, mysterious invisible giggles and the cuddles that sent me deep into dreamtown.

Thus decludes installation #1 of Hekter the Virgin and his scrambled thoughts. #2 is going to bed with me tonight for some reflective contemplation and R.E.M…. the best way to stir it up.

Noobiesnacks


by Spun Lepton

Monday

The sun has been up for only a few hours as you and yours drive your van out on to the playa. The vehicle kicks up dust that stings your nose. Somebody says to a fellow passenger, “Roll up your window.” It’s a shared sentiment.

This is your first time at Burning Man and you’re giddy. The greeters at the entrance pull you out of your van and hug you. One of them slaps you on the ass. How’s that for a welcome? They tell you to roll around on the ground and get playa dust all over yourself. At first you resist, but then you feel an urge to get into the spirit of the place, so you give in.

You arrive at your campsite. Your campmates, your family for the week, jump out of their vehicles and begin putting together the dome and shade structures. They’ve been here plenty of times before, so you follow their lead. The sun is so bright and hot that it burns through your shirt. Within a few hours the camp is set up and functional. You’re told to drink more water, so you fill your stomach with it. It’s uncomfortable, but you resign yourself to it, as you know it’s necessary.

Night falls and the chill arrives. Everybody puts on their evening wear and heads to an opening day celebration. After a few drinks, some of you break off from the larger group to visit The Man. He’s so much more mundane than you had anticipated. Later, the mixture of alcohol and exhaustion drives you to hunt down your tent for some rest.

Tuesday

Fuck, it’s hot. The early morning chill gives way to heat within a matter of minutes and turns your tent into an oven. Opening the flaps encourages a light breeze, but it’s not enough to allow you any more sleep. Nature has decided it’s time for you to get up. Besides that, you have to take a wicked piss. You slather on your sunblock and enter the daylight.

You’re taking the Porta-Potties for granted. You don’t realize it now, but by the end of the week you’ll be doing your I-have-to-go-pee-pee dance while waiting in line. Today, however, you get in quickly and do your business. The sanitary wash dispensers are empty. Gross.

This is it, huh? This is the event your friends have been gushing about for years, eh? You knew camping in the desert wasn’t going to be all that exciting. It was going to be hot, dry, dusty, and uncomfortable. It actually kind of sucks.

You sit around the camp and read through the booklet of daily events. A couple of the events jump out at you and you make note of their times. You soon realize, though, that you and yours aren’t wearing watches.

“What time is it?”

“Daytime.”

Crap.

Bloody hangnails have already formed on many of your fingers. Ouch.

Night hits and you put on your heavier clothes. Tonight is a night for exploration. Your group jumps on their bikes and ride around the city. On your way to Dance Dance Immolation one of your group is hit by a poorly lit car and thrown to the ground. She’s all right, she can stand and walk, but her evening is over. The group splits so some can lead her home to rest.

Yeah, this event is great. You’re not even here two full days and somebody gets injured. Fucking awesome.

Somebody is excited to see something called The Serpent Mother. It’s a giant burning snake, and it makes you think, “Whoa, that’s pretty fucking cool.” You look over at The Man. He waits, calmly anticipating the weekend. He looks so much smaller than you had envisioned him. The glowing neon is nice, though.

You’re still not feeling the vibe and energy of the playa. You’re out of touch. You’re a fucking noob. While many of yours seem to have already gotten into the spirit of the event, you remain an outsider. You’re alone. You become depressed. You wander off on your own to do some brief exploring, stopping at the Porta-Potties so often that it becomes a nuisance. And the sanitation wash dispensers are always empty. Gross.

You make it back to your camp. Somebody asks how you’re doing. “Not good,” is about all you can muster. You receive a hug. It makes you feel a little better.

You walk up to Center Camp to watch somebody from your camp perform. It’s a good show, but you’re still convinced you’re not on the same wavelength with everybody else. You feel disconnected. You’re convinced you’re a beacon of awkwardness. They’re enjoying themselves so much more than you are. You’re sure this is how it will be for the rest of the week. You decide to go to bed and stay there until the end of Burning Man, if possible.

You leave Center Camp alone. You feel safe hiding in the darkness and knowing that none of the strangers you pass can see your dour expression. How would they react if they knew you were miserable?

A stranger whose face you never see walks up to you and gives you a hug.

“Cheer up, man, you’re beautiful.”

Sleep does not come easily.

Wednesday

You wake up. Fuck. You’re still here. It’s so fucking hot. God damn it, why didn’t you take a normal vacation? God damn it. “Fuck you, sun, you’re not cooking me out of my tent today.” Fuck. Fuck!

You spend the afternoon laying in your tent, desperately resisting your bladder’s demands. God, is this what your entire week is going to be like? Everybody said this was one of the greatest things ever, and all you’ve gotten from it were hangnails, body odor, and a sense of social disconnection. And you’re fucking stuck here without any means of escape. Why did you agree to this?

It would be so easy to die. That would end it. You could zip up the flaps and turn your tent into a sauna, filling the fucking thing with moisture from your own body. You could dehydrate yourself to death before the day is through. Somebody has already died here this year, so how hard could it be? Seriously.

By mid-afternoon you’re coaxed out of your tent by your bladder and sanity. On the way back to your tent you hear, “Hey, come over here and sit down in the shade.” The invite makes you feel a little better. Your campmates want your company.

“Holy shit!”

People scramble from the dome to see what’s going on outside. It’s a 20-story dust devil. You’re awestruck. Cameras appear. You think, “I wonder what it’s like in the middle of that.” Part of you wants to get on your bike ride into it. Another part wants nothing to do with the monster. Eventually, it makes its way off the playa and into the city, tearing up rooftops and throwing lawn chairs into the sky. Nature shows us her art piece for the year and it is breathtaking.

Later, you’re back in the dome when the wind picks up. Somebody outside yells, “Help!” Everyone rushes out to white-out conditions. The car port you’ve been using as a secondary shade structure is being lifted off the ground like a kite. Everybody grabs a leg and holds on. You realize that nature sent the dust devil as an omen and not an art piece. Somebody removes the fabric from the carport, leaving only its skeleton. This is the way it remains for the rest of the week.

Night falls and you’re feeling good. The awe and excitement from the afternoon seems to have charged your cells, and you’re ready for an adventure. You hit the playa with new energy. The strange and colorful art you’re encountering not only holds your interest, but invigorates you. “How the hell did they get this thing out here?” It’s a question you hear yourself asking over and over.

Thursday

“Please, Man, let today be easier than yesterday.” The thought arrives upon waking. He’s out there looking over you. You can feel his presence today. How is that even possible? He’s only wood, nails, and neon.

You venture from your tent when the sun is high. The lines are growing at the Porta-Potties. The sanitary wash dispensers are empty. Gross.

You’re asked, “How are you feeling?”

Before you can stop yourself, you admit that you were in a bad place the day before. The admission pours out in detail and the other person listens with interest. You receive a hug. It’s nice, and it makes you feel better. You don’t feel as much like a social satellite. You catch yourself smiling and thinking how in any other situation your answer to the same question would’ve been a terse, “I’m all right.” What’s going on here?

Later, you’re asked, “Do you want to go get a Bloody Mary?”

Yes, most definitely, you do. Your group jumps on their bikes and heads across the playa to the other side of the city. You’re racing, you’re playing tag, you’re listening to somebody sing an “I Love Burning Man” song. You reach the Bloody Mary camp and fix yourself a drink from scratch. It’s delicious. You’re enjoying listening to people talk. You find yourself talking with people, too. Everybody is smiling, laughing, and playing.

You tour the Esplanade with the group. You ride the giant spinning teeter-totter and the crank-driven merry-go-round.

Night rolls in for exploration. Your group finds themselves on the playa on foot. You hop into a two-story art car and ride into the city. Somebody becomes bored with the ride and insists the group get off. You find yourself rather overtaken by the smell of gasoline, so you agree.

After a quick stop at the Porta-Potties, (no sanitary wash, gross), the group splits up to adventure. You encounter people juggling live fireworks. You watch Dr. Megavolt fire bolts of lightning from his hands. You chase green lasers across the playa. Finally, exhaustion takes over and you walk two miles back to your tent.

Friday

There’s only two days left and you haven’t seen half of the shit there is to see. It’s crunch time. You plan to go out to the Esplanade on foot after sundown and see as many of the attractions as you can, with or without your group.

The day is fucking hot and you spend much of it in your dome. Later, a group of you go over to Center Camp to watch and participate in some of the events there. Some of you decide to find alcoholic refreshment. Upon leaving Center Camp, you discover that one of the bikes has gone missing. Shit. Later, you’re told that this is typical of Friday and Saturday. “It’s when the tourists start showing up.”

You find yourself alone as the sun moves toward the far horizon. You’re on your bike, riding around the Esplanade and taking stock of the places you might like to visit after dark. You make it back to your camp in time for dinner. Afterward, you put on the alien-head costume that you had been anticipating wearing.

On your way out of the camp, you throw a large handful of glowsticks in your bag. Your intention is to give them to people who are wearing no lights, unaffectionately known as “darkwads,” due to the fact that they are nigh impossible to see at night. Simply put, they’re dangers to themselves and anybody on bikes.

You find that most of the people you encounter are very grateful for your gift. However, you approach one drunken, stumbling man on the Esplanade and when you offer him a glowstick, he vomits his response, “I don’ need dat SHIT!”

Before you can stop yourself you say, “Hey, if you want to get hit by a car that’s your own fucking business.” You contemplate asking the next biker you see to run directly into the drunken darkwad piece of shit. You then realize that your response to his verbal attack was very different from your typical behavior. Again, what’s going on here? Was this The Man’s doing? You feel freedom in your new behavior. You laugh.

You wander the night and chat with people you will never see again. Everybody is your friend. People want to talk to you and to be nice to you. In turn, you want to be nice to other people. Your smile beams against your mask. People can still see it in your eyes and they reciprocate.

You stop into a club and dance until your lungs hurt. You sit down next to a stranger who suggests you take the mask off so you can breathe more easily. Another stranger approaches the both of you and asks what time it is.

You respond, “Night time.”

Your new friends laugh.

Saturday

Fuck, it’s hot. The sun doesn’t want you to rest. It wants you to wake up and live. It wants you to feel the energy that resonates off of every person you encounter.

You climb out of your tent and head to the Porta-Potties. On the way there you can see the energy in the people you pass. Their expressions, their body language, their entire selves vibrate with excitement and anticipation. You notice you’re feeling it, too.

The sanitary wash dispensers are empty, but somebody has put out their own bottle for everybody to share. You think about the generosity of the people here and how it’s so unlike it is in the real world. The simple act of giving is its own reward. Knowing you’ve done something good and helpful for somebody else makes you happy, even if you never get to meet that somebody.

People approach you on the street and offer you fruit. You stop your bike and gladly accept. People with squirt-guns approach you and offer to spray cold water on you. You gladly accept, riding your bike around and around them, laughing as it turns into a game.

You are given the task of keeping a friend occupied while a surprise un-birthday party is put together for him at Center Camp. Four of you wander the city and stop at Citrus Camp for a refreshing beverage. You stop and play on a trampoline you’d been eyeing all week, but you’re still not daring enough to do the flips you used to do as a child. Maybe next year.

Eventually, you find your way back to Center Camp. A short birthday celebration breaks out and the guest of honor shyly thanks everybody. A game of Set starts and you play along. Sharing these simple events is good. You realize that this calm, accepted feeling you’ve discovered in yourself can be held on to long after The Man has burned.

You review your week and how you gradually came to feel this way. You consider the possibility that the disconnection you felt earlier in the week was your own self-fulfilling prophesy. It was a falsehood that formed first in your mind and came true through your own actions. You believed that others were rejecting and disconnecting themselves from you, so you disconnected yourself from them.

My fear was my shadow and it was cast across others, obscuring their true faces.

You realize it’s almost over. You feel a little sad, as you’ve only just started to understand. You’re grateful for the small amount you’ve learned, though. You hope to take this lesson with you into the real world.

“We need to get out there right now or we’ll never be able to see it.”

The night arrives and your group is scrambling to get it together for the Burn. You race your bikes to Imagenode and park them there, making sure to lock them up. You follow your group as the entire city collects around The Man. Everybody crams together to assure themselves some modicum of visibility. Fire dancers perform, but you can’t see them due to numerous people who refuse to get off their bikes and sit the fuck down. The performance ends.

The Man’s arms erupt with fireworks, and the crowd roars! Soon, fire engulfs him and he collapses. The crowd roars again! People gather around the ashes and watch the rest of the structure burn. It is an event that defies full description. While the act of burning down The Man sounded so mundane to you before you’d ever visited the event, the actual first-hand experience is breathtaking. The Man’s spirit is released from the wood and neon and it enters everybody on the playa. It’s an event that fills every spectator with life and happiness that is immediately experienced through each other.

The Esplanade is supercharged. So much laughter and joy. So many people dancing and playing. It’s unreal. You get caught up in it.

Now that The Man is gone, you get lost in the city. His physical presence was always a good gauge of direction. The entire event gets turned upside-down without him. People compound the chaos by taking down the street signs. The city turns strange and mysterious and sometimes you wonder if you’re ever going to find your camp again. The adventure exhilarates you.

Sunday

During the day you visit your friends, some of them temporary, to say, “See you next year.”

After your trailer is packed and the sun is setting, the group wanders out to watch the Temple burn. It’s bittersweet and a little somber. There are only mild cheers when parts of it collapse into ashes.

The group goes back to their vehicles and head off toward the real world. The wheels kick up playa dust again, but you can’t smell it. You’ve become integrated.

Answers


by Derek Sloan

Many burners find themselves in a dilemma when confronted with seemingly sophomoric inquiries from friends whom haven’t yet taken the playa plunge. In an effort to facilitate a beneficial connection between the pristine and unclean and to prevent quixotic retorts that only further estrange the uninitiated, I have compiled a list of stock replies to the question, “So, what was Burning Man like?”

  • Imagine the inside of Satan’s vacuum bag. Now, imagine sticking your head into it and seeing things very clearly.
  • Did you know that buttless chaps are quite comfortable, when worn backwards?
  • I didn’t know Belgians built giant Bowerbird displays.
  • The art was fantastic at night. I can only imagine what it looked like in daylight.
  • Do you know that industrial tech-house song with a driving bass line? (You mean there’s only one?) Have you ever heard it looped for 7 consecutive days? It works.
  • If Walt Disney’s Electric Light Parade was conducted by Edgar Allan Poe and Jim Morrison, the mutant vehicle line-up at BRC would still have to tone it down to fit in.
  • I heard there was a fair bit of partying.
  • It changed my life. I now firmly believe in the pee-bottle approach.
  • Rocky Top Tennessee sounds best with a banjo, a didgeridoo, and 2 gallons of sangria.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed being very dirty. The dust, however, was rather unpleasant.
  • While routinely removing parts of my shade structure during a midday dust devil darkening, I couldn’t help but wonder why one thousand pairs of pants were flying against the wind. Then I recalled the three-story trebuchet.
  • For some it’s about hatha (i.e. hung over) yoga, parades with or without stilts or clothing, bad beer tasting good, baked goods, electrical arcing, dying santas, skirmishes with mean bunnies, satirical faith, desiccation, friends, strangers, combustion, singing, dancing, singeing, admiring, winding, and unwinding.
  • Every night around dusk I kept wondering, “Where is everyone going?”
  • Washed bright. Dim neon night. Peach colored hills. Still silhouette. Fall brake. Moons on fire. Vegas’ dream child.
  • The complaint booth at center camp was understaffed.
  • My favorite work was by Johnny on the Spot. Perhaps you’ve seen his creations. It’s participatory art. I would describe it as a plastic polymerization of blue and white miniature houses. It’s mostly an olfactory experience. I always feel lighter after a viewing. One of his early, primitive works was located around 7:30 midway between the temple and the man. It had no title. It was simply a pile of excrement marked with a red bandana. Brilliant.

Two Men Enter – One Man Leaves


by Jorg Ihle

2006 was to be my first burn and before I even set foot on the playa I had already encountered the flames of a burning man. I myself was set on fire. Not literally, but metaphorically speaking. Just two days before my departure to Black Rock City I took what is called the “Phoenix practice” or the “pepper bath”. You bathe in a tub of very hot peppers and herbs for 25-plus minutes, all along feeling like the flesh is burning off your skin. The bath is not only a very powerful detox, but also an intense challenge to the mind.

During the bath someone died, someone I had long desired to let go off – but was too afraid to do. I call him “The Sleeper.” He was the part of me that loved to hide behind the illusions, who didn’t want to awaken.

Feeling scared and uncertain I embarked on my 12-hour drive from Los Angeles to BRC. And as the miles of beautiful countryside passed by my car window, I became very emotional and anxious, understanding that a big release was upon me. I knew that Burning Man will transform me; I knew that change had opened its doors for me.

As I arrived, I was of course overwhelmed by the beauty, the creativity, the love and the freedom that Burning Man presents. And for my entire stay that feeling of being overwhelmed never seemed to seize. Like Alice, I felt I had gone down the rabbit hole, everything was magical and fantastical.

I danced and partied, loved and connected for the first days. I just took everything in, went with the flow, enjoyed a life in a free spirited and non-judgmental environment. I was high on life!

Then came my last day, Saturday, the day the man was to burn. I felt a change inside me, a deep longing to finally experience why I had truly come to Burning Man. The playa had opened me up, I was finally ready to surrender to my hopes and fears. And so I went to the temple, a place I had avoided until then. The second I entered the sacred space, my heart opened, and there was no more holding back the emotions. I cried a river, I mourned the loss of my dear friend The Sleeper, who for so long had guided me through this life. And it was there that I watched him sail away, disappear into the horizon of the desert heat. I thanked him, blessed him, and waved good-bye.

And then the tears faded away, and lightness overcame me. A heavy burden had been lifted off my 32-year-old shoulders.

And so I left the temple, at peace, ready for my final confrontation.

I had previously stopped by the Death Guild’s Thunderdome and although I was too afraid to enter, I knew that my warrior soul desired to experience it.

I returned to our camp where I was painted in the tradition of a tribal warrior.

Ready for battle, I watched the man burn, and as he went up in flames, I knew it was time for me to finish what I had begun.

“Two men enter, one man leaves” is the chant at the Thunderdome. The battle cry was all too familiar to me, for I am a big fan of the Mad Max franchise. But I do recall thinking that it makes no sense here. At Burning Man two men enter and two men leave. The Thunderdome here is just play, make-believe.

As I was strapped into my harness and handed my weapon, I noticed how calm I was inside. The peaceful warrior had not left me. I knew that I had already won the fight, simply because I had accepted the challenge.

As we were unleashed on each other, I suddenly felt the transformation. Fear was no part of me. I felt strong, balanced, focused and confident. That truly disturbed my dear opponent. It must have been an uneven fight, for he was so nervous he could not even touch me. I on the other hand began to play with him, tease him, taunt him in a very playful manner. The fight became play for me, for I did not fear losing or even dying!

When the fight was over, we embraced brotherly, and I thanked him for allowing me this experience.

And as I stepped out of the Thunderdome it really hit me. The crowd’s chant was true after all: two men did enter and only one man did leave. The Sleeper was now completely gone, and only the peaceful warrior remained.